Does eating at your desk or 'on the go' really make you gain weight?

You may need to concentrate when eating if you want to stay trim - but the evidence isn't definitive.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 20 Aug 2015

Headlines abound today claiming eating on the move can make you pile on the pounds. But, as with much media science reporting, it’s not that simple.

Researchers from the University of Surrey got 60 women who were either dieting or not to eat a cereal bar. The first group munched while watching Friends, the second while walking around a corridor, the third during a chat with a friend.

The women who were on a diet ate more snacks, including five times as much chocolate as others, after if they had chomped down the cereal bar while on their feet.

‘Eating on the go may make dieters overeat later on in the day,’ said Professor Jane Ogden, the lead author of the study. ‘This may be because walking is a powerful form of distraction which disrupts our ability to process the impact eating has on our hunger.  Or it may be because walking, even just around a corridor, can be regarded as a form of exercise which justifies overeating later on as a form of reward.’

She added that any distractions, including ‘al-desko’ dining, ‘can’ have a similar effect. ‘When we don’t fully concentrate on our meals and the process of taking in food, we fall into a trap of mindless eating where we don’t track or recognise the food that has just been consumed,’ she said.

It’s a reasonable theory to posit and the findings are certainly interesting. But it’s far from conclusive. The study only looked at female dieters at a single point in time (also, MT hasn’t been able to see the full study yet and the summary doesn't say what kind of diets the women were on either). And while snacking is often linked with weight gain, it’s not clear extra chocolate would cancel out any weight loss from dieting at the same time.

So the research would need repeating over time with men and women on measurable, comparable diets for anything really concrete to be said on the matter. It’s still worth keeping an eye on how much you eat at your desk – as well as avoiding the inevitable crumbs, standing up more at work is thought to be healthy (sandwich in hand or not) But a cheeky al-desko picnic once in a while probably isn’t going to tip the scales (and if you want to know whether you're a regular desk diner, Surrey Uni have created a highly scientific quiz just for you).

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